62 CONTEXTS: The Wider World

“Portrait of an East India Company Official” by unknown artist, c. 1760. Wikimedia Commons.


by Allegra Villarreal


Narratives of travel and adventure first filtered into British consciousness, one could argue, in the age of pillage and pilgrimage that came with the earliest Crusades. During this time, accounts like that of Sir John Mandeville captured the imagination of the English but these fantastical quests would soon be supplanted by a genre rooted (supposedly) in a more honest account: the travelogue. In both print and manuscript form, tales of encounters with peoples of distant lands, proliferated in the decades after Columbus’ voyage.

What motivated these travels was not leisure; Muslim powers controlled key Mediterranean ports and trade routes, leaving European powers desperate to find alternative trade routes to the East. Indeed, Columbus famously thought he had landed upon the coast of India or China when, in actuality, he’d discovered the American continents; the resulting conquest of the Aztec and Incan Empires flooded Europe with gold, gems, and entirely new delicacies such as vanilla and chocolate. These riches inspired all other wealthy nations to amass navies and set sail in search of their own lucrative territories to lay claim to.

While the “New World” is often remembered as the focus of this contest, influence and control of other territories were also sought after including Mediterranean islands and ports (such as Sicily, Cyprus and Malta), and the coasts of Africa (where the practice of enslaving Africans and compelling them onto ships bound for the Americas has begun in earnest), as well as trade alliances with northern and Eastern Europe.

16th century England was no match for Spain or Portugal in terms of conquest and exploration, but considering their stature as a small, island nation (which had just broken off from the Roman Catholic Church), there was were voyages to Nova Scotia, Russia, Persia, Greenland, the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina, and the Caribbean all documented in Hakluyt’s Principle navigations, voyages, traffiques, and discoveries of the English Nation in 1589. Hakluyt, though never a world traveler himself, assembled a vast array of first-hand accounts of English travel “to the most remote and farthest distant quarters of the earth” with the express purpose of encouraging future exploration and enterprise.

The desire “To seek new worlds for gold, for praise, for glory,” as Sir Walter Ralegh put it, was not without cost: many of these explorers (including Cavendish, Frobisher, and Hawkins) died at sea, while others succumbed to disease and hunger. Those who stayed home only saw glimpses of these travels through the artifacts brought back and the accounts of travelers as detailed in the excerpts below. These early Elizabethan adventures give a glimpse into the nascent British Empire which would emerge in the following century.

Reading: From Dedicatory Epistle to The Principal Navigations by Richard Hakluyt (1589)

Richard Hakluyt (1552?-1616) was educated at Christ Church, Oxford and an ordained minister in the Church of England. He is remembered for his efforts to encourage colonization of North America by the English, and his desire to document English maritime achievements in his Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America (1582) and The Principall Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoueries of the English Nation (1589–1600). In the reading below, Hakluyt details his childhood interest in travel. Apart from travel to France, Hakluyt spent no significant time abroad.

From To the Right Honorable Sir Francis Walsingham, Knight, principal secretary to Her Majesty, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and one of Her Majesty’s most honorable privy council

Right Honorable,

I do remember that being a youth, and one of her Majesty’s scholars at Westminster that fruitful nursery, it was my hope to visit the chamber of M. Richard Hakluyt, my cousin, a Gentleman of the Middle Temple, well known unto you, at a time when I found lying open upon his board certain books of Cosmographie, with a universal Map: he seeing me somewhat curious in the view thereof, began to instruct my ignorance, by showing me the division of the earth into three parts after the old account, and then according to the latter, & better distribution, into more: he pointed with his wand to all the known Seas, Gulfs, Bays, Straights, Capes, Rivers, Empires, Kingdoms, Dukedoms, and Territories of each part, with declaration also of their special commodities, & particular wants, which by the benefit of traffic [trade], & entercourse of merchants, are plentifully supplied. From the Mappe he brought me to the Bible, and turned to the 107. Psalm directed me to the 23 & 24 verses, where I read that they go down to the sea in ships, and occupy the great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. Which words of the Prophet together with my cousins discourse (things of high and rare delight to my young nature) took in me so deep an impression, that I constantly resolved, if ever I were preferred to the University, where better time, and more convenient place might be ministered for these studies, I would by God’s assistance prosecute that knowledge and kind of literature, the doors whereof (after a sort) were so happily opened before me.

According to which my resolution, when, not long after, I was removed to Christ-church in Oxford, my exercises of duty first performed, I fell to my intended course, and by degrees read over whatsoever printed or written discoveries and voyages I found extant either in the Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, or English languages, and, in my public lectures was the first, that produced and showed both the old imperfectly composed, and the new lately reformed Maps, Globes, Spheres, and other instruments of this Art for demonstration in the common schools, to the singular pleasure, and general contentment of my auditory. In continuance of time, and by reason principally of my insight in this study, I grew familiarly acquainted with the chiefest Captains at sea, the greatest Merchants, and the best Manners of our nation: by which means having gotten somewhat more than common knowledge, I passed at length the narrow seas into France with sir Edward Stafford, her Majesty’s careful and discreet Ligier, where during my five years abroad with him in his dangerous and chargeable residency in her Highness’ service, I both heard in speech, and read in books other nations miraculously extolled for their discoveries and notable enterprises by sea, but the English of all others for their sluggish security, and continual neglect of the like attempts especially in so long and happy a time of peace, either ignominiously reported, or exceedingly condemned: which singular opportunity, if some other people our neighbors had been blessed with, their protestations are often and vehement, they would fare otherwise have used. And that the truth and evidence hereof may better appear, these are the very words of Popiliniere in his book called L’Admiral de France, and printed at Paris. Fol. 73. pag 1, 2. The occasion of his speech is the commendation of the Rhodnais, who being (as we are) Islanders, were excellent in navigation, whereupon he wondered much that the English should not surpassed in that quality, in this sort:

Ce qui m’a fait autresfois rechercher les occasions, qui empeschent, que les Anglois, qui ont d’esprit, de moyens & valeur assez, pour s’aquerir vn grand honeur parmi tous les Chrestiens, ne se font plus valoir sur l’element qui leur est, & doit estre plus naturel qu’ à autres peuples: qui leur doiuent ceder en la structure, accommodement & police de nauires: comme i’ ay veu en plusieurs endroits parmi eux. 

Thus both hearing, and reading the obloquie of our nation, and finding few or none of our owne men able to reply herein: and further, not seeing any man to haue care to recommend to the world, the industrious labors, and painful travels of our countrymen: for stopping the mouths of the reprochers, my self being the last winter returned from France with the honorable the Lady Sheffield, for her passing good behavior highly esteemed in all the French court, determined notwithstanding all difficulties, to undertake the burden of that work wherein all others pretended either ignorance, or lack of leisure, or want of sufficient argument, whereas (to speak truly) the huge toil, and the small profit to insure, were the chief causes of the refusal. I call the work a burden, in consideration that these voyages lay so dispersed, scattered, and hidden in several hucksters’ hands, that I now wonder at myself, to see how I was able to endure the delays, curiosity, and backwardness of many from whom I was to receive my originals: so that I have just cause to make that complaint of the maliciousness of divers in our time, which Pliny made of the men of his age: At nos elaborata ijs abscondere átque supprimere cupimus, & fraudare vitam etiam alienis bonis, &c.

To harp no longer upon this string, & to speak a word of that just commendation which our nation does indeed deserve: it can not be denied, but as in all former ages, they have been men full of activity, stirrers abroad, and searchers of the remote parts of the world, so in this most famous and peerless gouvernement of her most excellent Majesty, her subjects through the special assistance, and blessing of God, in searching the most opposite corners and quarters of the world, and to speak plainly, in compassing the vaste globe of the earth more than once, haue excelled all the nations and people of the earth. For, which of the kings of this land before her Majesty, had their banners ever been in the Caspian sea? which of them hath ever dealt with the Emperor of Persia, as her Majesty hath done, and obtained for her merchants large & loving; privileges? who euer saw before this regiment, an English Ligier in the stately porch of the Grand Signor at Constantinople? who euer found English Consuls & Agents at Tripolis in Syria, at Aleppo, at Babylon, at Balsara, and which is more, who ever heard of Englishman at Goa before now? what English ships did heretofore ever anchor in the mighty river of Plate? passe and repasse the unpassable (in former opinion) strait of Magellan, range along the coast of Chili, Peru, and all the backside of Noua Hispania, further then any Christian euer passed, trauers the mighty breath of the South sea, land upon the Luzones in despite of the enemy, enter into alliance, amity, and traffic with the princes of the Moluccaes, & the Isle of Iaua, double the famous Cape of Bona Speranza, arrive at the Isle of Santa Helena, & last of al ruturne home most richly laden with the commodities of China, as the subiects of this now flourishing monarchy have done?

Lucius Florus in the very end of his historie de gestis Romanorum recorded as a wonderful miracle, that the Seres, (which I take to be the people of Cathay, or China) sent ambassadors to Rome, to entreat friendship, as moved with the fame of the majesty of the Roman Empire. And have not we as good cause to admire, that the Kings of the Moluccæs and Iaua maior, haue desired the favour of her majesty, and the commerce & traffic of her people? Is it not as strange that the born naturals of Japan, and the Philippinæs are here to be seen, agreeing with our climate, speaking our language, and informing us of the state of their Eastern habitations? For mine own part, I take it as a pledge of Gods further favour both unto vs and them: to them especially, unto whose doors I doubt not in time shall be by vs carried the incomparable treasure of the truth of Christianity, and of the Gospel, while we use and exercise common trade with their marchants. I must confess to have read in the excellent history intituled Origins of Ioannes Goropius, a testimony of king Henry the VIII, a prince of noble memory, whose intention was once, if death had not prevented him, to have done some singular thing in this case: whose words speaking of his dealing to that end with himself, he being a stranger, & his history rare, I thought good in this place verbatim to record:

Ante viginti & plus eo annos ab Henrico Kneuetto Equite Anglo nomine Regis Henrici arram accepi, qua conuenerat, Regio sumptu me totam Asiam, quoad Turcorum & Persarum Regum commendationes, & legationes admitterentur, peragraturum. Ab his enim duobus Asiæ principibus facile se impetraturum sperabat, vt non solùm tutò mihi per ipsorum fines liceret ire, sed vt commendatione etiam ipsorum ad confinia quoque daretur penetrare. Sumptus quidem non exiguus erat futurus, sed tanta erat principi cognoscendi auiditas, vt nullis pecunijs ad hoc iter necessarijs se diceret parsurum. O Dignum Regia Maiestate animum, O me foelicem, si Deus non antè & Kneuettum & Regem abstulisset, quàm reuersus ab hac peregrinatione fuissem, &c. 

But as the purpose of David the king to build a house and temple to God was accepted, although Solomon performed it: so I make no question, but that the zeal in this matter of the aforesaid most renowned prince may seem no less worthy (in his kind) of acceptance, although reserved for the person of our Solomon her gracious Majesty, whom I feare not to pronounce to haue received the same Heroical spirit, and most honorable disposition, as an inheritance from her famous father.

Now whereas I have always noted your wisdom to have had a special care of the honor of her Majesty, the good reputation of our country, & the advancing of navigation, the very walls of this our Island, as the oracle is reported to have spoken of the sea forces of Athens: and whereas I acknowledge in all dutiful sort how honorably both by your letter and speech I have been animated in this and other my travels, I see my self bound to make presentment of this work to yourself, as the fruits of your own encouragements, & the manifestation both of my unfeigned service to my prince and country, and of my particular duty to your honour: which I have done with the lessee suspicion either of not satisfying the world, or of not answering your own expectation, in that according to your order, it hath passed the sight, and partly also the censure of the learned physician M. Doctor James, a man many ways very notably qualified.

And thus beseeching God, the giver of all true honor & wisdom to increase both these blessings in you, with continuance of health, strength, happiness, and whatsoever good thing else your self can wish, I humbly take my leave.

London the 17. of November.

Your honors most humble always to be commanded


Reading: From A Geographical History of Africa by John Leo, a Moor (1526)

Leo Africanus (1494-1554) was  a Berber diplomat and author who is best known for his book Descrittione dell’Africa (Description of Africa) centered on the geography of the Maghreb and Nile Valley. The book was regarded among his scholarly peers in Europe as the most authoritative treatise on the subject until the modern exploration of Africa. For this work, Leo became a household name among European geographers. Born in Granda, Spain and raised in Fez, Morocco, he established himself as a local diplomat and businessman before being captured by Spanish pirates at the age of 24. He was initially enslaved before his captors realized his status and education; he eventually converted to Christianity and set about to write his survey of Africa. His views of Africa, detailed below, influenced many artistic and literary depictions of the continent, not least of which was Shakespeare’s Othello.


Those Arabians which inhabit in Barbarie or upon the coast of the Mediterranean sea, are greatly addicted unto the study of good arts and sciences: and those things which concerns their law and religion are esteemed by them in the first place. Moreover they have been heretofore most studious of the Mathematics, of Philosophy, and of Astrology: but these arts (as it is aforesaid) were four hundred years ago, utterly destroyed and taken away by the chief professors of their law. The inhabitants of cities do most religiously observe and reverence those things which appertain unto their religion: yea they honor those doctors and priests, of whom they learn their law, as if they were petie-gods. Their Churches they frequent very diligently, to the end they may repeat certain prescript and formal prayers; most superstitiously persuading themselves that the same day wherein they make their prayers, it is not lawful for them to wash certain of their members, when as at other times they will wash their whole bodies. [. . .]

Moreover those which inhabit Barbarie are of great cunning & dexterity for building & for mathematical inventions, which a man may easily conjecture by their artificial works. Most honest people they are, and destitute of all fraud and guile; not only embracing all simplicity and truth, but also practicing the same throughout the whole course of their lives: albeit certain Latin authors, which have written of the same regions, are far otherwise of opinion. Likewise they are most strong and valiant people, especially those which dwell upon the mountains. They keep their covenant most faithfully, insomuch that they had rather die than break promise. No nation in the world is so subject into jealousy; for they will rather lose their lives, then put up any disgrace in the behalf of their women. So desirous they are of riches and honor, that therein no other people can go beyond them. They travel in a manner over the whole world to exercise traffique. For they are continually to be seen in Egypt, in Ethiopia, in Arabia, Persia, India, and Turkey: and whithersoever they go, they are most honorably esteemed of: for none of them will possess any art, unless he hath attained unto great exactness and perfection therein. They have always been much delighted with all kind of civility and modest behavior: and it is accounted heinous among them for any man to utter in company, any bawdy or unseemly word. They have always in mind this sentence of a grave author; Give place to thy superior. If any youth in presence of his father, his uncle, or any other of his kindred, doth sing or talk ought of love matters, he is deemed to be worthy of grievous punishment. Whatsoever lad or youth there lights by chance into any company which discourses of love, no sooner hears nor understands what their talk tends unto, but immediately he withdraws himself from among them. These are the things which we thought most worthy of relation as concerning the civility, humanity, and upright dealing of the Barbarians: let us now proceed unto the residue.

Those Arabians which dwell in tents, that is to say, which bring up cattle, are of a more liberal and civil disposition: to wit, they are in their kind as devout, valiant, patient, courteous, hospital, and as honest in life and conversation as any other people. They be most faithful observers of their word and promise; insomuch that the people, which before we said to dwell in the mountains, are greatly stirred up with emulation of their virtues. Howbeit the said mountaineers, both for learning, for virtue, and for religion, are thought much inferior to the Numidians, albeit they have little or no knowledge at all in natural philosophy. They are reported likewise to be most skillful warriors, to be valiant, and exceeding lovers and practicers of all humanity. Also, the Moores and Arabians inhabiting Libya are somewhat civill of behavior, being plain dealers, voice of dissimulation, favorable to strangers, and lovers of simplicity. Those which we before named white, or tawny Moors, are stedfast in friendship: as likewise they indifferently and favorably esteem of other nations: and wholly endeavor themselves in this one thing, namely, that they may lead a most pleasant and jocund life. Moreover they maintain most learned professors of liberal arts, and such men are most devout in their religion. Neither is there any people in all Africa that lead a more happy and honorable life.

Never was there any people or nation so perfectly endued with virtue, but that they had their contrary faults and blemishes: now therefore let us consider, whether the vices of the Africans do surpass their virtues & good parts. Those which we named the inhabitants of the cities of Barbarie are somewhat needy and covetous, being also very proud and high-minded, and wonderfully addicted unto wrath; insomuch that (according to the proverbs) they will deeply engrave in marble any injury be it never so small, & will in no wise blot it out of their remembrance. So rustic they are & void of good manners, that scarcely can any stranger obtain their familiarity and friendship. Their wits are but mean, and they are so credulous, that they will believe matters impossible, which are told them. So ignorant are they of natural philosophy, that they imagine all the effects and operations of nature to be extraordinary and divine. They observe no certain order of living nor of laws. Abounding exceedingly with choler, they speak always with an angry and loud voice. Neither shall you walk in the day-time in any of their streets, but you shall see commonly two or three of them together by the ears. By nature they are a vile and base people, being no better accounted of by their governors then if they were dogs. They have neither judges nor lawyers, by whose wisdom and counsel they ought to be directed. They are utterly unskillful in trades of merchandize, being destitute of bankers and money-changers: wherefore a merchant can do nothing among them in his absence, but is himself constrained to go in person, whithersoever his wares are carried. No people under heaven are more addicted unto courtesy then this nation: neither is there (I think) to bee found among them one of an hundred, who for courtesy, humanity, or devotions sake will vouchsafe any entertainment upon a stranger. Mindful they have always been of injuries, but most forgetful of benefices. Their minds are perpetually possessed with vexation and strife, so that they will seldom or never show themselves tractable to any man; the cause whereof is supposed to be; for that they are so greedily addicted unto their filthy lucre, that they never could attain unto any kind of civility or good behavior.

The shepherds of that region live a miserable, toilsome, wretched and beggerly life: they are a rude people, and (as a man may say) borne and bred to theft, deceit, and brutish manners. Their young men may go a wooing to divers maidens, till such time as they have sped of a wife. Yea, the father of the maiden most friendly welcomes her suitor: so that I think scarce any noble or gentleman among them can choose a virgin for his spouse: albeit, so soon as any woman is married, she is quite forsaken of all her suiters; who then seeks out other new paramours for their liking. Concerning their religion, the greater part of these people are neither Mahumetans, Jewes, nor Christians; and hardly shall you find so much as a spark of piety in any of them. They have no churches at all, nor any kind of prayers, but being utterly estranged from all godly devotion, they lead a savage and beastly life: and if any man chances to be of a better disposition (because they have no law-givers nor teachers among them) he is constrained to follow the example of other mens lives & manners.

All the Numidians being most ignorant of natural, domestical, & commonwealth-matters, are principally addicted unto treason, treachery, murder, theft, and robbery. This nation, because it is most slavish, will right gladly accept of any service among the Barbarians, be it never so vile or contemptible. For some will take upon them to be dung-farmers, others to be scullions, some others to bee ostlers, and such like servile occupations. Likewise the inhabitants of Libya live a brutish kind of life; who neglecting all kinds of good arts and sciences, do wholly apply their minds unto theft and violence. Never as yet had they any religion, any laws, or any good form of living; but always had, and ever will have a most miserable and distressed life. There cannot any treachery or villainy be invented so damnable, which for lucres sake they dare not attempt. They spend all their days either in most lewd practices, or in hunting, or else in warfare: neither wore they any shoes nor garments. The Negros likewise lead a beastly kind of life, being utterly destitute of the use of reason, of dexterity of wit, and of all arts. Yea they so behave themselves, as if they had continually lived in a forrest among wilde beasts. They have great swarmes of harlots among them; whereupon a man may easily conjecture their manner of living: except their conversation perhaps be somewhat more tolerable, who dwell in the principal towns and cities: for it is like that they are somewhat more addicted to civility. [. . .]

Reading: From The First Book of the Introduction of Knowledge by Andrew Boorde (1547)

Andrew Boorde (c. 1490-1549) was a Welsh traveller, physician and writer. Educated at Oxford, he would go on observe surgical practice at the universities of Orleans, Poitiers, Toulouse, Montpellier and Wittenberg and to complete a religious pilgrimage to Compostela in Galicia. Thomas Cromwell, chief advisor to Henry VIII, seems to have taken this extensive travel into account when he entrusted him with the mission to gauge public feeling abroad about the English king. In 1538, he visited nearly all the countries of Europe except Russia and Turkey before making his way to Jerusalem (all of which is documented in a thorough itinerary to Cromwell). In 1542, he drew on the knowledge gained during his travels to write The First Book of Introduction of Knowledge which ranks as the earliest continental guidebook.  In it, he describes the customs and an manners of various nations; for each, he includes a brief satirical description and a few phrases from the local language such as that which he provides below about North Africans.

The Moore which do Dwell in Barbary

I am a black Moor born in Barbary;

Christian men for money oft doth me buy.

If I be unchristened, merchants do not care,

They buy me in markets, be I never so bare.

Yet will I be a good diligent slave,

Although I do stand in stead of a knave.

I do gather figs, and with some I wipe my tail:

To be angry with me, what shall it avail?


Barbary is a great country, and plentiful of fruit, wine, and corn. The inhabitors be called the Moors. There be white Moors and black Moors. They be infidels and unchristened. There be many Moors brought into Christendom, into great cities and towns, to be sold. And Christian men do buy them, and they will be diligent, and will do all manner of service. But they be set most commonly to vile things. They be called slaves. They do gather grapes and figs, and with some of the figs they will wipe their tail, and put them in the frail. They have great lips, and knotted hair, black and curled. Their skin is soft, and there is nothing white but their teeth and the white of the eye. When a merchant or any other man do buy them, they be not all of one price, for some be better cheap than some; they be sold after as they can work and do their business. When they do die, they be cast into the water, or on a dunghill, that dogs and pies and crows may eat them, except some of them that be christened: they be buried. They do keep much of Mohammed’s law, as the Turks do. They have now a great captain called Barbarossa which is a great warrior. They doth harm, divers times, to the Genoese, and to Provence and Languedoc, and other countries that do border on them, and for they will come over the straits, steal pigs, and geese, and other things. Whoso will speak any Moorish, English and Moorish doth follow.

One. two. three. four. five. six. seven.
Wada. attennin. talate. orba. camata. sette. saba.
eight. nine. ten. eleven. twelve. thirteen.
camene. tessa. asshera. habasshe. atanasshe. telatasshe.
fourteen. fifteen. sixteen. seventeen.
arbatasshe. camatasshe. setatasshe. sabatashe.
eighteen. nineteen. twenty. one and twenty, etc.
tematasshe. tyssatasshe. essherte. wahadaessherte, etc.

Good morrow.
Give me some bread and milk and cheese.
Atteyne gobbis, leben, iuben.
Give me wine, water, flesh, fish, and eggs.
Atteyne nebet, moy, laghe, semek, beyet.
Much good do it you.
You be welcome.
I thank you.
Erthar lake heracke.
Good night.

Reading: From A True Discourse of the Late Voyages of Discovery by George Best (1577) 

George Best (1555-1584) was a navigator who took part in the second and third voyages led by Martin Frobisher to discover a northwest passage to China—a purpose which was forever altered by the discovery of gold in eastern Canada. His A True Discourse of the Late Voyages of Discoverie details the three voyages; his descriptions of local peoples illustrate a fundamental shift in explaining racial difference. No longer are these differences attributed to climate but rather to hereditary factors. The expeditions to “Meta Incognita” failed to find the Northwest Passage and the “gold” they found turned out to be only fool’s gold. Best was ultimately killed in a duel at the age of 29.


from Experiences and Reasons of the Sphere, to Prove all Parts of the World Habitable and thereby to Confute the Position of the Five Zones

FIRST, it may be gathered by experience of our Englishmen in Anno 1553. For Captain Windam made a Voyage with Merchandise to Guinea, and entered so far within the Torrida Zona, that he was within three or four degrees of the Equinoctial, and his company abiding there certain Months, returned, with gains.

Also the Englishmen made another Voyage very prosperous and gainful, An. 1554. to the coasts of Guinea, within 3. degrees of the Equinoctial. And yet it is reported of a truth, that all the tract from Cape de las Palmas trending by C. de tres puntas alongst by Benin , unto the Ile of S. Thomas (which is perpendicular under the Equinoctial) all that whole Bay is more subject to many blooming and smothering heats, with infectious and contagious aires, then any other place in all Torrida Zona: and the cause thereof is some accidents in the land. For it is most certain, that mountains, Seas, woods and lakes &c. may cause through their sundry kind of situation, sundry strange and extraordinary effects, which the reason of the clime otherwise would not give. I mention these Voyages of our Englishmen, not so much to prove that Torrida Zona may be, and is inhabited, as to show their readiness in attempting long and dangerous Navigations. We also among us in England have black Moors, & Ethiopians, out of all parts of Torrida Zona, which after a small continuance, can well endure the cold of our Country, and why should not we as well abide the heat of their Country?

And…by the experience of sundry men, yea thousands, Travelers and Merchants, to the East and West Indies in many places both directly under, and hard by the Equinoctial, they with one consent affirm, that it abounds in the middest of Torrida Zona with all manner of Grain, Herbs, grass, fruit, wood and cattle, that we have here, and thousands other sorts, fare more wholesome, delectable and precious, then any we have in these Northern climates, as very well shall appear to him that will read the Histories and Navigations of such as have travelled Arabia , India intra & extra Gangem, the Islands Moluccae, America , &c. which all lie about the middle of the burning Zone, where it is truly reported, that the great herbs, as are Radish, Lettuce, Coleworts, Borage, and such like, do wax ripe, greater, more savory and delectable in taste then ours, within sixteen days after the seed is sown…And to be short, all they that have belle there with one consent affirm, that there are the goodliest green meadows and plaines, the fairest mountains covered with all sorts of trees and fruits, the fairest valleys, the goodliest pleasant fresh rivers, stored with infinite kind of fishes, the thickest woods, green and bearing fruit all the whole year, that are in all the world. And as for gold, silver, and all other kinds of Metals, all kinds of spices and delectable fruits, both for delicacy and health, are there in such abundance, as hitherto they have bene thought to have been bred no where else but there. And in conclusion, it is now thought that no where else but under the Equinoctial, or not far from thence, is the earthly Paradise, and the only place of perfection in this world.


Others again imagine the middle Zone to be extreme hot, because the people of Africa , especially the Ethiopians, are so coal black, and their hair like wool curled short, which blackness and curled hair they suppose to come only by the parching heat of the Sun, which how it should be possible I cannot see: for even under the Equinoctial in America , and in the East Indies, and in the islands Moluccae the people are not black, but tawny and white, with long hair uncurled as wee have, so that if the Ethiopians’ blackness came by the heat of the Sun, why should not those Americans and Indians also be as black as they, seeing the Sun is equally distant from them both, they abiding in one Parallel?…

Therefore to return again to the black Moors. I myself have seen an Ethiopian as black as a coal brought into England, who taking a faire English woman to wife, begat a son in all respects as black as the father was, although England were his native country, and an English woman his mother: whereby it seems this blackness proceeds rather of some natural infection of that man, which was so strong, that neither the nature of the Clime, neither the good complexion of the mother concurring, could any thing alter, and therefore, wee cannot impute it to the nature of the Clime. And for a more fresh example, our people of Meta Incognita (of whom and for whom this discourse is taken in hand) that were brought this last year into England , were all generally of the same colour that many nations be, lying in the middest of the middle Zone. And this their colour was not only in the face which was subject to Sun and air, but also in their bodies, which were still covered with garments as ours are, yea the very sucking child of twelve months age had his skin of the very same colour that most have under the Equinoctial, which thing cannot proceed by reason of the Clime, for that they are at least ten degrees more towards the North then we in England are, No, the sun never comes near their Zenith by forty degrees: for in effect, they are within three or four degrees of that which they call the frozen Zone, and as I said, forty degrees from the burning Zone, whereby it follows, that there is some other cause then the Climate or the Sun’s perpendicular reflexion, that should cause the Ethiopians great blackness. And the most probable cause to my judgement is, that this blackness proceeds of some natural infection of the first inhabitants of that Country, and so all the whole progeny of them descended, are still polluted with the same blot of infection. Therefore it shall not be far from our purpose, to examine the first original of these black men, and howe by a lineal descent they have hitherto continued thus black.

It manifestly and plainely appears by holy Scripture, that after the general inundation and overflowing of the earth, there remained no more men alive but Noe and his three sons, Sem, Cham , and Japhet, who only were left to possess and inhabit the whole face of the earth : therefore all the sundry descents that until this present day have inhabited the whole earth, must needs come of the off-spring either of Sem, Cham , or Japhet, as the only sons of Noe, who all three being white, and their wives also, by course of nature should have begotten and brought forth white children. But the envy of our great and continual enemy the wicked Spirit is such, that as he could not suffer our olde father Adam to live in the felicity and Angelic state wherein he was first created, but tempting him, sought and procured his ruin and fall: so again, finding at this flood none but a father and three sons living, he so caused one of them to transgress and disobey his father’s commandment, that after him all his posterity should be accursed. The fact of disobedience was this: When Noe at the commandment of God had made the Ark and entered therein, and the flood-gates of heaven were opened, so that the whole face of the earth, every tree and mountain was covered with abundance of water, he straightly commanded his sons and their wives, that they should with reverence and fear behold the justice and mighty power of God, and that during the time of the flood while they remained in the Ark, they should use continence, and abstain from carnal copulation with their wives: and many other precepts he gave unto them, and admonitions touching the justice of God, in revenging sin, and his mercy in delivering them, who nothing deserved it. Which good instructions and exhortations notwithstanding his wicked son Cham disobeyed, and being persuaded that the first child borne after the flood (by right and Law of nature) should inherit and possess all the dominions of the earth, he contrary to his father’s commandement while they were yet in the Ark, used company with his wife, and craftily went about thereby to dis-inherit the off-spring of his other two brethren: for the which wicked and detestable fact, as an example for contempt of Almighty God, and disobedience of parents, God would a son should be borne whose name was Chus, who not only it self, but all his posterity after him should be so black and loathsome, that it might remain a spectacle of disobedience to all the world. And of this black and cursed Chus came all these black Moors which are in Africa , for after the water was vanished from off the face of the earth, and that the land was dry, Sem chose that part of the land to inhabit in, which now is called Asia , and Japhet had that which now is called Europa, wherein we dwell, and Africa remained for Cham and his black son Chus, and was called Chamesis after the fathers name, being perhaps a cursed, dry, sandy, and unfruitful ground, fit for such a generation to inhabit in.

Thus you see, that the cause of the Ethiopians blackness is the curse and natural infection of blood, and not the distemperature of the Climate; Which also may be proved by this example, that these black men are found in all parts of Africa , as well without the Tropics, as within, even unto Capo de buona Speranza Southward, where, by reason of the Sphere, should be the same temperature that is in Sicilia , Morea and Candie, where al be of very good complexions. Wherefore I conclude, that the blackness proceeds not of the hotness of the Clime, but as I said, of the infection of blood, and therefore this their argument gathered of the Africans blackness is not able to destroy the temperature of the middle Zone.

from A True Report of Such things as Happened in the Second Voyage of Captain Frosbisher Pretended for the Discover of a New Passage to Cathay, China, and the East India by the Northwest 

God having blessed us with so happy a land-fall, we bare into the straights which run in next hand, and somewhat further up to the Northward, and came as near the shore as wee might for the ice, and upon the eighteenth day of July our General taking the Goldfiners with him, attempted to go on shore with a small rowing Pinnace, upon the small Island where the Ore was taken up, to prove whether there were any store thereof to be found, but he could not get in all that Island a piece so big as a Walnut, where the first was found. But our men which sought the other Islands thereabouts found them all to have good store of the Ore, whereupon our General with these good tidings returned aboard about ten of the clock at night, and was joyfully welcomed of the company with a volley of shot. He brought eggs, fowles, and a young Seal aboord, which the company had killed ashore, and having found upon those Islands gins set to catch fowls, and sticks new cut, with other things, he well perceived that not long before some of the country people had resorted thither.

Having therefore found those tokens of the peoples access in those parts, and being in his first voyage well acquainted with their subtle and cruel disposition, he provided well for his better safety, and on Friday the nineteenth of July in the morning early, with his best company of Gentlemen and soldiers, to the number of forty persons, went on shore, as well to discover the Inland and habitation of the people, as also to find out some fit harbor for our ships. And passing towards the shore with no small difficulty by reason of the abundance of ice which lay alongst the coast so thick together that hardly any passage through them might be discovered, we arrived at length upon the main of Halles greater Island, and found there also as well as in the other small Islands good store of the Ore. And leaving his boats here with sufficient guard we passed up into the country about two English miles, and recovered the top of a high hill, on the top whereof our men made a Column or Crosse of stones heaped up of a good height together in good sort, and solemnly sounded a Trumpet, and said certain prayers kneeling about the Ensign, and honored the place by the name of Mount Warwick, in remembrance of the Right Honorable the Lord Ambrose Dudley Earle of Warwick, whose noble mind and good countenance in this, as in all other good actions, gave great encouragement and good furtherance. This done, we retired our companies not seeing any thing here worth further discovery, the country seeming barren and full of ragged mountains and in most parts covered with snow.

And thus marching towards our boats, we espied certain of the country people on the top of Mount Warwick with a flag wafting us back again and making great noise, with cries like the mowing of Bulls seeming greatly desirous of conference with us: whereupon the General being therewith better acquainted, answered them again with the like cries, whereat and with the noise of our trumpets they seemed greatly to rejoice, skipping, laughing and dancing for joy. And hereupon we made signs unto them, holding up two fingers, commanding two of our men to go apart from our companies, whereby they might do the like. So that forthwith two of our men & two of theirs met together a good space from company, neither party having their weapons about them. Our men gave them pins and points and such trifles as they had. And they likewise bestowed on our men two bow cases and such things as they had. They earnestly desired our men to go up into their country, and our men offered them like kindness aboard our ships, but neither part (as it seemed) admitted or trusted the others’ courtesy. Their manner of traffic is thus, they doe use to lay down of their merchandise upon the ground, so much as they mean to part withal, and so looking that the other party with whom they make trade should do the like, they themselves do depart, and then if they doe like of their Mart they come again, and take in exchange the others’ merchandise, otherwise if they like not, they take their own and depart. The day being thus well near spent, in haste we retired our companies into our boats again, minding forthwith to search alongst the coast for some harbor fit for our ships, for the present necessity thereof was much, considering that all this while they lay off and on between the two lands, being continually subject as well to great danger of fleeting ice, which environed them, as to the sudden flows which the coast seemed much subject unto. But when the people perceived our departure, with great tokens of affection they earnestly called us back again, following us almost to our boats: whereupon our Generals taking his Master with him, who was best acquainted with their manners, went apart unto two of them, meaning, if they could lay sure hold upon them, forcibly to bring them aboard, with intent to bestow certain toys and apparel upon the one, and so to dismiss him with all arguments of courtesy, and retain the other for an Interpreter. The General and his Master being met with their two companions together, after they had exchanged certain things the one with the other, one of the Salvages for lack of better merchandise, cut off the tail of his coat (which is a chief ornament among them) and gave it unto our General for a present. But he presently upon a watchword given with his Master suddenly laid hold upon the two Salvages. But the ground underfoot being slippery with the snow on the side of the hill, their hand-fast failed and their prey escaping ran away and lightly recovered their bow and arrows, which they had hid not far from them behind the rocks. And being only two Salvages in sight, they so fiercely, desperately, and with such fury assaulted and pursued our General and his Master, being altogether unarmed, and not mistrusting their subtitle that they chased them to their boats, and hurt the General in the buttocks with an arrow, who the rather speedily fled back, because they suspected a greater number behind the rocks. Our soldiers (which were commanded before to keep their boats) perceiving the danger, and hearing our men calling for shot came speedily to rescue, thinking there had bene a greater number. But when the Salvages heard the shot of one of our cavilers (and yet having first bestowed their arrows) they ran away, our men speedily following them. But a servant of my Lorde of Warwick, called Nicholas Conger a good footman, and uncombed with any furniture having only a dagger at his back overtook one of them, and being a Cornishman and a good wrestler, showed his companion such a Cornish trick, that he made his sides axe against the ground for a month after. And so being stayed, he was taken alive and brought away, but the other escaped. Thus with their strange and new prey our men repaired to their boats, and passed from the main to a small Island of a mile compass, where they resolved to tarry all night; for even now a sudden storm was grown so great at sea, that by no means they could recover their ships. And here every man refreshed himself with a small portion of victuals which was laid into the boats for their dinners, having neither ate nor drunk all the day before. But because they knew not how long the storm might last, nor how far off the ships might be put to sea, nor whether they should ever recover them again or not, they made great spare of their victuals, as it greatly behoved them: For they knew full well that the best cheer the country could yield them, was rocks and stones, a hard food to live withall, and the people more ready to eat them then to give them wherewithall to eat. And thus keeping very good watch and ward, they lay there all night upon hard cliffs of snow and ice both wet, cold, and comfortless.


Upon the mainland, over against the Countess’s Island, we discovered and beheld to our great marvel the poor caves and houses of those country people, which serve them (as it should seem) for their winter dwellings, and are made two fathom under ground, in compass round, like to an oven, being joined fast one by another, having holes like to a fox or cony bury, to keep and come ‘together. They under-trenched these places with gutters, so that *the water, falling from the hills above them, may slide away without their annoyance : and are seated commonly in the foot of a hill, to shield them better from the cold winds, having their door and entrance ever open towards the south. From the ground upward they build with whales’ bones, for lack of timber, which bending one over another, are handsomely compacted in the top together, and are covered over with sealskins, which, instead of tiles, fence them from the rain. In which house they have only one room, having the one half of the floor raised with broad stones a foot higher than the other, whereon strawing moss, they make their nests to sleep in. They defile these dens most filthily with their beastly feeding, and dwell so long in a place (as we think) until their sluttishness loathing them, they are forced to seek a sweeter air, and a new seat ; and are (no doubt) a dispersed and wandering nation, as the Tartarians, and live in hoards and troops, without any certain abode, as may appear by sundry circumstances of our experience.

Here our captive being ashore with us, to declare the use of such things as we saw, stayed himself alone behind the company, and did set up five small sticks round in a circle one by another, with one small bone placed just in the midst of all : which thing when one of our men perceived, he called us back to behold the matter, thinking that he had meant some charm or witchcraft therein. But the best conjecture we could make thereof was, that he would thereby his countrymen should understand, that for our five men which they betrayed the last year (whom he signified by the five sticks) he was taken and kept prisoner, which he signified by the bone in the midst. For afterwards when we shewed him the picture of his countryman, which the last year was brought into England (whose counterfeit we had drawn, with boat and other furniture, both as he was in his own, and also in English apparel), he was upon the sudden much amazed thereat; and beholding advisedly the same with silence a good while, as though he would strain courtesy whether should begin the speech (for he thought him no doubt a lively creature) at length began to question with him, as with his companion; and finding him dumb and mute, seemed to suspect him, as one disdainful, and would with a little help have grown into choler at the* matter, until at last, by feeling and handling, he found him but a deceiving picture. And then with great noise and cries, ceased not wondering, thinking that we could make men live or die at oixr pleasure.

And thereupon calling the matter to his remembrance, he gave us plainly to understand by signs, that he had knowledge of the taking of our five men the last year, and confessing the manner of each thing, numbered the five men upon his five fingers, and pointed unto a boat in our ship, which was like unto that wherein our men were betrayed : and when we made him signs, that they were slain and eaten, he earnestly denied, and made signs to the contrary.

Reading: “Amadas and Barlowe’s Voyage to Virginia” (1589)

Arthur Barlowe (1550 – 1620) was one of two British captains (along with Philip Amadas) who, under the direction of Sir Walter Raleigh, left England in 1584 to find land in North America to claim for Queen Elizabeth I of England. His account survives in a letter written to Raleigh as a report on their journey. It is one of the earliest detailed English commercial reports written from direct observation about any place in North America and has been called “one of the clearest contemporary pictures of the contact of Europeans with North American Indians. In Barlowe’s account, he describes the native Americans as living in a state of innocence, simplicity and honesty which was celebrated in Elizabethan times by poets and writers. At the same time, when the Algonkian hunters sudden return home, the English cannot help but reach for their weapons.

From Haklut’s Principal Navigations (1589)

The second of July we found shoal water, which smelt so sweetly and was so strong a smell as if we had been in the midst of some delicate garden, abounding with all kind of odoriferous flowers, by which we were assured that the land could not be far distant. And keeping good watch and bearing but slack sail the fourth of the same month, we arrived upon the coast, which we supposed to be a continent and firm land, and we sailed along the same 120 English miles before we could find any entrance or river issuing into the sea. The first that appeared unto us we entered, though not without some difficulty, and cast anchor about three harquebus shot within the haven’s mouth on the left hand of the same. And after thanks given to God for our safe arrival thither we manned our boats and went to view the land next adjoining and to ‘take possession of the same in the right of the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty as rightful Queen and Princess of the same’; and after delivered the same over to your use, according to Her Majesty’s grant and letters patents under Her Highness’ Great Seal. which being performed according to the ceremonies used in such enterprises, we viewed the land about us, being whereas we first landed very sandy and low towards the waterside, but so full of grapes as the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them, of which we found such plenty, as well there as in all places else, both on the sand and on the green soil on the hills as in the plains, as well on every little shrub as also climbing towards the tops of the high cedars, that I think in all the world the like abundance is not to be found, and myself, having seen those parts of Europe that most abound, find such difference as were incredible to be written.

We passed from the sea-side towards the tops of those hills next adjoining, being but of mean height, and from thence we beheld the sea on both sides to the north and to the south, finding no end any of both ways. This land lay stretching itself to the west, which after we found to be but an island of twenty leagues long and not above six miles broad. Under the bank or hill whereon we stood we beheld the valleys replenished with goodly cedar trees and, having discharged our harquebus shot, such a flock of cranes (the most part white) arose under us, with such a cry redoubled by many echoes, as if an army of men had shouted all together.

This island had many goodly woods full of deer, conies, hares, and fowl, even in the midst of summer, in incredible abundance. The woods are not such as you find in Bohemia, Muscovia, or Hyrcania, barren and fruitless, but the highest and reddest cedars of the world, far bettering the cedars of the Azores, of the Indies, or of Libanus, pines, cypress, sassafras, the lentisk, or the tree that beareth the mastic, the tree that beareth the rind of black cinnamon of which Master Winter brought from the Straits of Magellan, and many other of excellent smell and quality.

We remained by the side of this island two whole days before we saw any people of the country. The third day we espied one small boat rowing towards us, having in it three persons. This boat came to the land’s side, four harquebus shot from our ships, and there, two of the people remaining, the third came along the shore-side towards us, and, we being then all within-board, he walked up and down upon the point of the land next unto us. Then the master and the pilot of the admiral, Simon Ferdinando, and the Captain, Philip Amadas, myself, and others rowed to the land, whose coming this fellow attended, never making any show of fear or doubt.

And after he had spoken of many things not understood by us, we brought him with his own good liking aboard the ships and gave him a shirt, a hat, and some other things and made him taste of our wine and our meat, which he liked very well. And after having viewed both barks he departed and went to his own boat again, which he had left in a little cove or creek adjoining. As soon as he was two bowshots into the water, he fell to fishing, and in less than half an hour he had laden his boat as deep as it could swim, with which he came again to the point of the land, and there he divided his fish into two parts, pointing one part to the ship and the other to the pinnace, which, after he had (as much as he might) requited the former benefits received, he departed out of our sight.

The next day there came unto us divers boats and in one of them the king’s brother, accompanied with forty or fifty men, very handsome and goodly people and in their behaviour as mannerly and civil as any of Europe. His name was Granganimo, and the king is called Wingina, the country Wingandacoa (and now, by Her Majesty, Virginia).

The king is greatly obeyed and his brothers and children reverenced. The king himself in person was at our being there sore wounded in a fight which he had with the king of the next country called wingina and was shot in two places through the body and once clean through the thigh, but yet he recovered, by reason whereof and for that he lay at the chief town of the country, being six days’ journey off, we saw him not at all.

After we had presented this his brother with such things as we thought he liked, we likewise gave somewhat to the other[s] that sat with him on the mat. But presently he arose and took all from them and put it into his own basket, making signs and tokens that all things ought to be delivered unto him and the rest were but his servants and followers.

A day or two after this, we fell to trading with them, exchanging some things that we had for chamois, buff, and deerskins. when we showed him all our packet of merchandise, of all things that he saw a bright tin dish most pleased him, which he presently took up and clapped it before his breast and after made a hole in the brim thereof and hung it about his neck, making signs that it would defend him against his enemies’ arrows, for those people maintain a deadly and terrible war with the people and king adjoining. We exchanged our tin dish for twenty skins worth twenty crowns or twenty nobles and a copper kettle for fifty skins worth fifty crowns. They offered us very good exchange for our hatchets and axes and for knives, and would have given anything for swords, but we would not depart with any.

After two or three days the king’s brother came aboard the ships and drank wine and ate of our meat and of our bread and liked exceedingly thereof. And after a few days overpassed he brought his wife with him to the ships, his daughter, and two or three little children. His wife was very well favoured, of mean stature and very bashful. She had on her back a long cloak of leather with the fur side next to her body and before her a piece of the same. About her forehead she had a broad band of white coral and so had her husband many times. In her ears she had bracelets of pearls, hanging down to her middle (whereof we delivered Your Worship a little bracelet) and those were of the bigness of good peas.

The rest of her women of the better sort had pendants of copper hanging in every ear, and some of the children of the king’s brother and other noblemen have five or six in every ear. He himself had upon his head a broad plate of gold or copper, for, being unpolished, we knew not what metal it should be, neither would he by any means suffer us to take it off his head, but, feeling it, it would bow very easily.

His apparel was as his wives, only the women wear their hair long on both sides and the men but on one. They are of colour yellowish, and their hair black for the most part, and yet we saw children that had very fine auburn and chestnut colour hair.

After that these women had been there, there came down from all parts great store of people, bringing with them leather, coral, divers kinds of dyes very excellent, and exchanged with us; but when Granganimo, the king’s brother, was present none durst to trade but himself, except such as wear red pieces of copper on their heads like himself, for that is the difference between the noblemen and governors of countries and the meaner sort. And we both noted there, and you have understood since by these men which we brought home, that no people in the world carry more respect to their king, nobility, and governors than these do. The king’s brother’s wife, when she came to us, as she did many times, she was followed with forty or fifty women always, and when she came into the ship, she left them all on land, saving her two daughters, her nurse, and one or two more. The king’s brother always kept this order: as many boats as he would come withal to the ships, so many fires would he make on the shore afar off, to the end we might understand with what strength and company he approached.

Their boats are made of one tree, either of pine or of pitch trees, a wood not commonly known to our people nor found growing in England. They have no edge tools to make them withal. If they have any, they are very few and those it seems they had twenty years since, which as those two men declared was out of a wrack which happened upon their coast of some Christian ship, being beaten that way by some storm and outrageous weather, whereof none of the people were saved but only the ship or some part of her, being cast upon the sand, out of whose sides they drew the nails and spikes, and with those they made their best instruments. Their manner of making their boats is this: they bum down some great tree or take such as are wind-fallen, and, putting myrrh and rosin upon one side thereof, they set fire into it, and when it bath burnt it hollow, they cut out the coal with their shells, and everywhere they would burn it deeper or wider they lay on their gums, which burneth away the timber, and by this means they fashion very fine boats and such as will transport twenty men. Their oars are like scoops, and many times they set with long poles, as the depth serveth.

The king’s brother had great liking of our armour, a sword, and divers other things which we had, and offered to lay a great box of pearl in gage for them, but we refused it for this time, because we would not make them know that we esteemed thereof until we had understood in what places of the country the pearl grew, which now Your Worship doth very well understand.

He was very just of his promise, for many times we delivered him merchandise upon his word, but ever he came within the day and performed his promise. He sent us every day a brace or two of fat bucks, conies, hares, fish, the best of the world. He sent us divers kinds of fruits, melons, walnuts, cucumbers, gourds, peas, and divers roots and fruits very excellent good, and of their country corn, which is very white, fair, and well tasted, and groweth three times in five months. In May they sow, in July they reap; in June they sow, in August they reap; in July they sow, in September they reap. Only they cast the corn into the ground, breaking a little of the soft turf with a wooden mattock or pickaxe. Ourselves proved the soil and put some of our peas into the ground, and in ten days they were of fourteen inches high. They have also beans very fair, of divers colours and wonderful plenty, some growing naturally, and some in their gardens, and so have they both wheat and oats.

The soil is the most plentiful, sweet, fruitful, and wholesome of all the world. There are above fourteen several sweet-smelling timber trees, and the most part of their underwoods are bays and such-like. They have those oaks that we have, but far greater and better.

After they had been divers times aboard our ships, myself with seven more went twenty mile into the river that runneth toward the city of Skicoak, which river they call Occam, and the evening following we came to an island which they call Roanoke, distant from the harbour by which we entered seven leagues. And at the north end thereof was a village of nine houses built of cedar and fortified round about with sharp trees to keep out their enemies and the entrance into it made it like a turnpike very artificially.

When we came towards it, standing near unto the water’s side, the wife of Granganimo, the king’s brother, came running out to meet us very cheerfully and friendly. Her husband was not then in the village. Some of her people she commanded to draw our boat on the shore for the beating of the billow. Others she appointed to carry us on their backs to the dry ground and others to bring our oars into the house for fear of stealing. When we were come into the utter room, having five rooms in her house, she caused us to sit down by a great fire and after took off our clothes and washed them and dried them again. Some of the women pulled off our stockings and washed them. Some washed our feet in warm water, and she herself took great pains to see all things ordered in the best manner she could, making great haste to dress some meat for us to eat.

After we had thus dried ourselves, she brought us into the inner room, where she set on the board standing along the house some wheat like frumenty, sodden venison and roasted, fish sodden, boiled, and roasted, melons raw and sodden, roots of divers kinds, and divers fruits. Their drink is commonly water, but while the grape lasteth they drink wine, and for want of casks to keep it all the year after they drink water, but it is sodden with ginger in it and black cinnamon, and sometimes sassafras and divers other wholesome and medicinable herbs and trees.

We were entertained with all love and kindness and with as much bounty after their manner as they could possibly devise. We found the people most gentle, loving, and faithful, void of all guile and treason and such as lived after the manner of the Golden Age. The earth bringeth forth all things in abundance as in the first creation, without toil or labour. The people only care to defend themselves from the cold in their short winter and to feed themselves with such meat as the soil affordeth. Their meat is very well sodden, and they make broth very sweet and savoury. Their vessels are earthen pots, very large, white, and sweet; their dishes are wooden platters of sweet timber. Within the place where they feed was their lodging and within that their idol which they worship, of which they speak incredible things.

While we were at meat, there came in at the gates two or three men with their bows and arrows from hunting, whom when we espied, we began to look one towards another and offered to reach our weapons, but as soon as she espied our mistrust she was very much moved and caused some of her men to run out and take away their bows and arrows and break them and withal beat the poor fellows out of the gate again.

When we departed in the evening and would not tarry all night she was very sorry and gave us into our boat our supper half dressed, pots and all, and brought us to our boat’s side, in which we lay all night, removing the same a pretry distance from the shore. She, perceiving our jealousy, was much grieved and sent divers men and thirty women to sit all night on the bank’s side by us, and sent us into our boats fine mats to cover us from the rain, using very many words to entreat us to rest in their houses; but because we were few men and if we had miscarried the voyage had been in very great danger, we durst not adventure anything, although there was no cause of doubt, for a more kind and loving people there cannot be found in the world, as far as we have hitherto had trial.

from A Brief and True Report of the New-Found Land of Virginia by Thomas Hariot (1585)

Thomas Hariot (1560 – 1621), was an English astronomer, mathematician, ethnographer and translator who made advances within the scientific field including astronomy and algebra. He accompanied Sir Richard Grenville’s expedition to Virginia and wrote this account with the purpose of encouraging his fellow Englishmen to colonize the area. At the time, reports of hostile Algonkian natives (on whom the English settlers were entirely dependent for food) had reached England, and this report was meant to reassure would-be colonizers that they had nothing to fear.

Of the Nature and Manners of the People

It resteth I speak a word or two of the natural inhabitants, their nature and manners ; leaving large discourse thereof until time more convenient hereafter : now only so far forth, as that you may know, how that they in respect of troubling our inhabiting and planting, are not to be feared, but that they shall have cause both to fear and love us, that shall inhabit with them.

They are a people cloathed with loose mantles made of deer skins, and aprons of the fame round about their middles ; all else naked, of such a difference of statures only as we in England, having no edge tool or weapons of iron or steel to offend us withall ; neither know they how to make any ; those weapons that they have are only bows, made of wich-hazel, and arrows of reeds, flat edged truncheons, also of wood about a yard long, neither have they any thing to defend themselves but targets made of barks, and some armours made of sticks wickered together with thread.

Their towns are but small, and near the sea coast but few, some containing but 1 o or 12 houses, some 20 ; the greatest that we have seen hath been but of 30 houses: if they be walled, it is only done with barks of trees made fast to the stakes, or else with poles only, fixed upright and close one by another.

Their houses are made of small poles, made fast in the tops in round form, after the manner as it is used in many arbors in our gardens of England, in most towns covered with barks and in some with artificial mats made of long rushes, from the tops of the houses down to the ground. The length of them is commonly double to the breadth, in some places they are but 1 2 and 1 6 yards long, and in other some we have seen of 24.

In some places of the country, one only town belongeth to the government of a Wiroans or chief lord, in some other two or three ; in some six, eight, and more : the greatest Wiroans that yet we had dealing with, had but 1 8 towns in his government, and able to make not above 7 or 800 fighting men at the most. The language of every government is disferent from any other, and the further they are distant, the greater is the difference.

Their manner of wars amongst themselves, is either by sudden surprising one another most commonly about the dawning of the day, or moonlight, or else by ambushes, or some subtle devises. Set battles are very rare, except it fall out where there are many trees, where either part may have some hope of defence, after the delivery of every arrow, in leaping behind some or other.

If there fall out any wars between us and them what there sight is likely to be, we having advantages against them so many manner of ways, as by discipline, or strange weapons and devises else, especially ordnance great and small, it may easily be imagined ; by the experience we have had in some places, the turning up of their heels against us in running away, was their best defence.

In respect of us, they are a people poor, and for want of skill and judgment in the knowledge and use of our things, do esteem our trisles before things of greater value : notwithstanding in their proper manner ( considering the want of such means as we have), they seem very ingenious ; for though they have no such tools, nor any such crafts, sciences and arts as we, yet in those things they do, they shew excellence of wit. And by how much they upon due consideration mail find our manner of knowledges and crafts to exceed theirs in perfection, and speed for doing execution, by so much the more is it probable that they should desire our friendship and love, and have the greater respect for pleasing and obeying us : whereby may be hoped, if means of good government be used, that they may in short time be brought to civility, and the em bracing of true religion.

Some religion they have already, which although it be far from the truth, yet being as it is, there is hope it may be the easier and sooner reformed. Some religion they have already, which although it be far from the truth, yet being as it is, there is hope it may be the easier and sooner reformed.

They believe that there are many gods, which they call Mantoac, but of disferent forts and degrees, one only chief and great God, which hath been from all eternity. “Who, as they affirm, when he purposed to make the world, made first other gods of a principal order, to be as means and instruments to be used in the creation and govern ment to follow, and after the fun, moon and stars as petty gods, and the instruments of the other order more principal. First (they fay) were made waters, out of which by the gods was made all diversity of creatures that are visible or invisible.

For mankind they fay a woman was first made, which by the working of one of the gods, conceived and brought forth children : and in such sort they fay they had their beginning. But how many years or ages have passed since, they fay they can make no relation, having no letters nor other such means as we to keep records of the par ticulars of times past, but only tradition from father to son.

They think that all the gods are of human shape, and therefore they represent them by images in the form of men, which they call Kewasowok, one alone is called Kewas, them they place in houses appropriate, or temples, which they call Machicomuck, where they worship, pray, sing, and make many times offering unto them. In some Machi comuck we have seen but one Kewas, in some two, and in some other three. The common sort think them to be also gods.

They believe also the immortality of the soul, that after this life, as soon as the soul is departed from the body, according to the works it hath done, it is either carried to heaven the habitacle of gods, there to enjoy perpetual life and happiness, cr else to a great pit or hole, which they think to be in the farthest parts of their part of the world towards the fun-set, there to burn continually : the place they call Popogusso.

For the confirmation of this opinion, they told me two stories of two men that had been lately dead and revived again : the one happened but a few years before our coming into the country, of a wicked man which having been dead and buried, the next day the earth of the grave been seen to move, was taken up again, who made declaration where his foul had been, that is to fay, very near entering into Popogusso had not one of the Gods saved him, and gave him leave to return again, and teach his friends what they should do to avoid that terrible place of torment.

The other happened in the same year we were there, but in a town that was 60 miles from us, and it was told me for strange news, that one being dead, buried, and taken up again as the first, shewed that although his body had lain dead in the grave, yet his soul was alive, and had travelled far in a long broad way, on both sides whereof grew most delicate and pleasant trees, bearing more rare and excellent fruits, than ever he had seen before, or was able to express, and at length came to most brave and fair houses, near which he met his father that had been dead before, who gave him great charge to go back again, and shew his friends what good they were to do to enjoy the pleasures of that place, which when he had done he should aster come again.

What subtlety soever be in the Wiroans and priests, this opinion worketh so much in many of the common and simple sort of people, that it maketh them have great respect to their governors, and also great care what they do, to avoid torment after death, and to enjoy bliss, although notwithstanding there is punishment ordained for malefactors, as stealers, whoremongers, and other sorts of wicked doers, some punished with death, some with forfeitures, some with beating, according to the greatness of the facts.

Most things they saw with us, as mathematical instruments, sea compasses, the virtues of the load stone in drawing iron, a perspective glass whereby was shewed many strange sights, burning glasses, wild fire works, guns, books, writing and reading, spring clocks, that seemed to go of themselves, and many other things that we had, were so strange unto them, and so far exceeded their capacities to comprehend the reason and means both how they should be made and done, that they thought they were rather the works of gods than of men, or at the leastwise, they had been given and taught us of the gods ; which made many of them to have such opinion of us, that if they knew not the truth of God and religion already, it was rather to be had from us, whom God so specially loved, than from a people that were so simple, as they found themselves to be in comparison of us : whereupon greater credit was given unto that we spake of, concerning such matters.

Many times and in every town where I came, according as I was able, I made decla ration of the contents of the Bible, that therein was set forth the true and only God, and his mighty works, that therein was contained the true doctrine of salvation through Christ, with many particularities of miracles and chief points of religion, as I was able then to utter and thought fit for the time. And although I told them the book materially and of itself was not of any such virtue, as I thought they did conceive, but only the doctrine therein contained, yet would many be glad to touch it, to embrace it, to kiss it, to hold it to their breasts and heads, and stroke over all their body with it, to shew their hungry desire of that knowledge which was spoken of.

The Wiroans with whom we dealt called Wingina, and many of his people would be glad many times to be with us at our prayers, and many times call upon us both in his own town, and also in others whither he sometimes accompanied us, to pray and smg psalms, hoping thereby to be partaker of the fame effects which we by that means also expected.

Twice this Wiroan was so grievously sick that he was like to die, and as he lay languishing, doubting of any help by his own priests, and thinking he was in such danger for offending us and thereby our God, sent for some of us to pray and be a means to our God that it would please him either that he might live, or after death dwell with him in bliss ; so likewise were the requests of many others in the like cafe.

On a time also when their corn began to “wither by reason of a drought which hap pened extraordinarily, fearing that it had come to pass by reason that in some thing they had displeased us, many would come to us and desire us to pray to our God of England, that he would preserve their corn, promising that when it was ripe we also should be partakers of the fruit.

There could at no time happen any strange sickness, losses, hurts, or any other cross unto them, but that they would impute to us the cause or means thereof, for offending or not pleasing us. One other rare and strange accident, leaving others, will I mention before I end, which moved the whole country that either knew or heard of us, to have us in wonderful admiration.

There was no town where we had any subtle devise practised against us, we leaving it unpunished or not revenged (because we sought by all means possible to win them by gentleness) but than within a few days after our departure from every such town, the people began to die very fast, and many in short space, in some towns about 20, in some 40, and in some six score, which in truth was very many in respect of their num bers. This happened in no place that we could learn, but where we had been, where they used some practice against us, and after such time.

The disease was also so strange, that they neither knew what it was, nor how to cure it, the like by report of the oldest men in the country never happened before time out of mind. A thing specially observed by us, as also by the natural inhabitants themselves : insomuch that when some of the inhabitants who were our friends, and especially the Wiroans, Wingina, had observed such effects in four or five towns to follow their wicked practices, they were persuaded that it was the work of our God through our means, and that we by him might kill and flay whom we would without weapons, and not come near them. And thereupon when it had happened that they had understanding that any of their enemies had abused us in our journies ; hearing that we had wrought no revenge with our weapons, and fearing upon some cause the matter should so rest ; did come and entreat us that we would be a means to our God, that they, as others that had dealt ill with us, might in like sort die, alledging how much it would be for our credit and profit, as also theirs, and hoping furthermore that we would do so much at their requests in respect of the friendship we professed them.

Whose entreaties although we shewed that they were ungodly, affirming that our God would not subject himself to any such prayers and requests of men ; that indeed all things have been, and were to be done according to his good pleasure as he had ordained ; and that we to shew ourselves his true servants ought rather to make petition to the contrary, that they with them might live together with us, be made partakers of his truth, and serve him in righteousness, but notwithstanding in such sort, that we refer that, as all other things, to be done according to his divine will and pleasure, and as by his wisdom he had ordained to be best.

Yet because the effect fell out so suddenly and shortly after according to their desires, they thought nevertheless it came to pass by our means, and that we in using such speeches unto them, did but dissemble the matter, and therefore came unto us to give us thanks in their manner, that although we satisfied them not in promise, yet in deeds and effect we had fulfilled their desires.

This miraculous accident, in all the country wrought so strange opinions of us, that some people could not tell whether to think us gods or men, and the rather because that all the space of their sickness, there was no man of ours was known to die, or that was specially sick : they noted also that we had no women amongst us, neither that we did caFe for any of theirs.

Some therefore were of opinion, that we were not born of women, and therefore not mortal, but that we were men of an old generation many years past, then risen again to immortality.

Some would likewise seem to prophecy, that there were more of our generation yet to come to kill theirs and take their places, as some thought the purpose was, by that which was already done. Those that were immediately to come after us they imagined to be in the air, yet invisible and without bodies, and that they by our entreaty and for the love of us, did make the people to die in that sort as they did, by mooting invisible bullets into them.

To confirm this opinion, their physicians (to excuse their ignorance in curing the disease) would not be ashamed to say, but earnestly make the people believe, that the strings of blood that they sucked out of the sick bodies, were the strings wherewithal! the invisible balls were tied and cast. Some also thought that we shot them ourselves out of our pieces, from the place where we dwelt, and killed the people in any town that had offended us, as we listed, how far distant from us soever it were. And other some said that it was the special work of God for our fakes, as- we ourselves have cause in some sort to think no less, whatsoever some do or may imagine to the contrary, specially some astrologers, knowing of the eclipse of the sun, which we saw the same year before in our voyage thitherward, which unto them appeared very terrible. And also of a comet which began to appear but a few days before the beginning of the said sickness.. But to exclude them from being the special causes of so special an accident, there are further reasons than I think fit at this present to be alledged. These their opinions I have set down the more at large, that it may appear unto you that there is good hope they may be brought through discreet dealing and government to them embracing of the truth, and consequently to honour, obey, fear and love us.

Reading: “A Troublesome Voyage to Guinea and the West Indies”

John Hawkins (1532 – 1595) was an English naval commander and administrator, slave trader, spy, merchant, navigator, shipbuilder, and privateer. He was considered the first English trader to profit from the Triangle Trade, based on selling supplies to colonies ill-supplied by their home countries, and their demand for African slaves in the Spanish colonies of Santo Domingo and Venezuela in the late 16th century. His account of capturing and buying slaves is perhaps the earliest English record of the slave trade; in the end, his mission was proved “troublesome” as many of his men were lost to Spanish attacks, disease and starvation.

From Hakluyt’s, Principal Navigations (1568)

The third troublesome voyage made with the Jesus of Lubeck, the Minion, and four other ships, to the parts of Guinea and the West Indies, in the years 1567 and 1568, by Master John Hawkins

The ships departed from Plymouth, the second day of October, Anno 1567, and had reasonable weather until the seventh day. At which time, 40 leagues north from Cape Finisterre, there arose an extreme storm, which continued four days, in such sort, that the fleet was dispersed, and all our great boats lost; and the Jesus, our chief ship, in such case as not thought able to serve the voyage. Whereupon in the same storm we set our course homeward, determining to give over the voyage. But the 11th day of the same month, the wind changed, with fair weather; whereby we were animated to follow our enterprise, and so did, directing our course with the islands of the Canaries, where, according to an order before prescribed, all our ships before dispersed met at one of those islands, called Gomera, where we took water, and departed from thence the fourth day of November, towards the coast of Guinea, and arrived at Cape Verde, the 18th of November; where we landed 150 men, hoping to obtain some negroes, where we got but few, and those with great hurt and damage to our men, which chiefly proceeded of their envenomed arrows. And although in the beginning they seemed to be but small hurts, yet there hardly escaped any that had blood drawn of them, but died in strange sort,1 with their mouths shut some ten days before they died, and after their wounds were whole;2 where I myself had one of the greatest wounds, yet, thanks be to God, escaped.

From thence we passed the time upon the coast of Guinea, searching with all diligence the rivers from Rio Grande unto Sierra Leona, till the 12th of January; in which time we had not gotten together 150 negroes. Yet notwithstanding, the sickness of our men and the late time of the year commanded us away: and thus having nothing wherewith to seek the coast of the West Indies, I was with the rest of our company in consultation to go to the coast of the Mine,3 hoping there to have obtained some gold for our wares, and thereby to have defrayed our charge. But even in that present instant, there came to us a negro, sent from a king, oppressed by other kings his neighbours, desiring our aid, with promise that as many negroes as by these wars might be obtained, as well of his part as of ours, should be at our pleasure. Whereupon we concluded to give aid, and sent 120 of our men, which the 15th of January assaulted a town of the negroes of our ally’s adversaries, which had in it 8,000 inhabitants, being very strongly impaled and fenced after their manner. But it was so well defended, that our men prevailed not, but lost six men and 40 hurt: so that our men sent forthwith to me for more help. Whereupon, considering that the good success of this enterprise might highly further the commodity of our voyage, I went myself, and with the help of the king of our side, assaulted the town, both by land and sea, and very hardly with fire (their houses being covered with dry palm leaves); obtained the town; and put the inhabitants to flight. Where we took 250 persons, men, women, and children; and by our friend the king of our side, there were taken 6oo prisoners, whereof we hoped to have had our choice. But the negro, in which nation is seldom or never found truth, meant nothing less: for that night he removed his camp and prisoners, so that we were fain to content us with those few which we had gotten ourselves.

Now had we obtained between 400 and 500 negroes, wherewith we thought it somewhat reasonable to seek the coast of the West Indies; and there, for our negroes, and other our merchandise, we hoped to obtain whereof to countervail our charges with some gains. Whereunto we proceeded with all diligence, furnished our watering, took fuel, and departed the coast of Guinea the third of February, continuing at the sea with a passage more hard than before hath been accustomed till the 27th day of March, which day we had sight of an island, called Dominica, upon the coast of the West Indies, in 14 degrees. From thence we coasted from place to place, making our traffic with the Spaniards as we might, somewhat hardly, because the king had straightly commanded all his governors in those parts by no means to suffer any trade to be made with us. Notwithstanding, we had reasonable trade, and courteous entertainment, from the isle of Margarita unto Cartagena, without anything greatly worth the noting, saving at Capo de la Vela, in a town called Rio de la Hacha, from whence come all the pearls. The Treasurer, who had the charge there, would by no means agree to any trade, or suffer us to take water. He had fortified his town with divers1 bulwarks in all places where it might be entered, and furnished himself with 100 arquebusiers,2 so that he thought by famine to have enforced to have put a-land our negroes. Of which purpose he had not greatly failed, unless we had by force entered the town; which, after we could by no means obtain his favour, we were enforced to do, and so with 200 men broke in upon their bulwarks, and entered the town with the loss only of two men of our parts, and no hurt done to the Spaniards, because after their volley of shot discharged, they all fled. Thus having the town, with some circumstance, as partly by the Spaniards’ desire of negroes, and partly by friendship of the Treasurer, we obtained a secret trade: whereupon the Spaniards resorted to us by night, and bought of us to the number of 200 negroes. In all other places where we traded, the Spaniards’ inhabitants were glad of us and traded willingly.

If all the miseries and troublesome affairs of this sorrowful voyage should be perfectly and thoroughly written, there should need a painful man with his pen, and as great a time as he had that wrote the lives and deaths of the martyrs.

Reading: “Of Cannibals” by Michel de Montaigne (1588)

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Lord of Montaigne (1533 –1592) was one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance, known for popularizing the “essay” as a literary genre. His work is noted for its merging of casual anecdotes and autobiography with intellectual insight. His massive volume Essais contains some of the most influential essays ever written. Included among these is “Of Cannibals” (first translated into English in 1603) which describes the ceremonies of the Tupinamba people of Brazil; his appeal to “cultural relativism” is of of the first of its kind, and the extended analogy of the Tupinamba practice of cannibalism to the “barbarism” of 16th century Europe influenced writers throughout the continent, not least of which was Shakespeare who incorporates a portion of it with The Tempest.

When King Pyrrhus invaded Italy,2 having viewed and considered the order of the army the Romans sent out to meet him; “I know not,” said he, “what kind of barbarians” (for so the Greeks called all other nations), “these may be; but the disposition of this army, that I see, has nothing of barbarism in it.” As much said the Greeks of that which Flaminius3 brought into their country; and Philip, beholding from an eminence the order and distribution of the Roman camp formed in his kingdom by Publius Sulpicius Galba,4 spake to the same effect. By which it appears how cautious men ought to be of taking things upon trust from vulgar opinion, and that we are to judge by the eye of reason, and not from common report.

I long had a man in my house that lived ten or twelve years in the New World, discovered in these latter days, and in that part of it where Villegaignon landed,5 which he called Antarctic France. This discovery of so vast a country seems to be of very great consideration. I cannot be sure that hereafter there may not be another, so many wiser men than we having been deceived in this. I am afraid our eyes are bigger than our bellies, and that we have more curiosity than capacity, for we grasp at all, but catch nothing but wind.

… I find that there is nothing barbarous and savage in this nation, by anything that I can gather, excepting, that everyone gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country. As, indeed, we have no other level of truth and reason, than the example and idea of the opinions and customs of the place wherein we live; there is always the perfect religion, there the perfect government, there the most exact and accomplished usage of all things. They are savages at the same rate that we say fruit are wild, which nature produces of herself and by her own ordinary progress, whereas in truth, we ought rather to call those wild, whose natures we have changed by our artifice, and diverted from the common order.

These nations then seem to me to be so far barbarous, as having received but very little form and fashion from art and human invention, and consequently to be not much remote from their original simplicity. The laws of nature, however, govern them still, not as yet much vitiated with any mixture of ours; but ’tis in such purity that I am sometimes troubled we were not sooner acquainted with these people, and that they were not discovered in those better times, when there were men much more able to judge of them than we are. I am sorry that Lycurgus1 and Plato had no knowledge of them, for to my apprehension, what we now see in those nations does not only surpass all the pictures with which the poets have adorned the golden age, and all their inventions in feigning a happy state of man, but, moreover, the fancy and even the wish and desire of philosophy itself; so native and so pure a simplicity, as we by experience see to be in them, could never enter into their imagination, nor could they ever believe that human society could have been maintained with so little artifice and human patchwork….

This is a people amongst whom there is no commerce; no knowledge of letters; no science of numbers; no judges or politicians; no habit of service; no riches and no poverty; no contracts, no inheritance; no property; no employments, except those of leisure; no respect for authority except within the family; no clothing; no agriculture; no metal; no use of wheat or of wine. The very words that signify lying, treachery, dissimulation, avarice, envy, detraction, pardon, are all unknown. How far short do imaginary republics fall from such perfection!…

They have I know not what kind of priests and prophets, who very rarely present themselves to the people, having their abode in the mountains. At their arrival, there is a great feast, and solemn assembly of many villages. Each house, as I have described, makes a village, and they are about a French league distant from one another. This prophet declaims to them in public, exhorting them to virtue and their duty; but all their ethics are comprised in these two articles, resolution in war, and affection to their wives. He also prophesies to them events to come, and the issues they are to expect from their enterprises, and prompts them to or diverts them from war. But let him look to’t; for if he fail in his divination, and anything happen otherwise than he has foretold, he is cut into a thousand pieces, if he be caught, and condemned for a false prophet. For that reason, if any of them has been mistaken, he is no more heard of. …

They have continual war with the nations that live further within the mainland, beyond their mountains, to which they go naked, and without other arms than their bows and wooden swords, fashioned at one end like the heads of our javelins. The obstinacy of their battles is wonderful, and they never end without great effusion of blood: for as to running away, they know not what it is. Everyone for a trophy brings home the head of an enemy he has killed, which he fixes over the door of his house. After having a long time treated their prisoners very well, and given them all the regales they can think of, he to whom the prisoner belongs, invites a great assembly of his friends. They being come, he ties a rope to one of the arms of the prisoner, of which, at a distance, out of his reach, he holds the one end himself, and gives to the friend he loves best the other arm to hold after the same manner; which being done, they two, in the presence of all the assembly, despatch him with their swords. After that they roast him, eat him among them, and send some chops to their absent friends. They do not do this, as some think, for nourishment, as the Scythians anciently did, but as a representation of an extreme revenge, as will appear by this: that having observed the Portuguese, who were in league with their enemies, to inflict another sort of death upon any of them they took prisoners, which was to set them up to the girdle in the earth, to shoot at the remaining part till it was stuck full of arrows, and then to hang them, they thought those people of the other world (as being men who had sown the knowledge of a great many vices among their neighbors, and who were much greater masters in all sorts of mischief than they) did not exercise this sort of revenge without a meaning, and that it must needs be more painful than theirs, they began to leave their old way, and to follow this.

I am not sorry that we should here take notice of the barbarous horror of so cruel an action; but, seeing so clearly into their faults, we should not be so blind to our own. I conceive there is more barbarity in eating a man alive, than when he is dead; in tearing the body limb from limb by racks and torments while the person remains conscious; in roasting it by degrees; in causing it to be bitten and worried by dogs and swine (as we have not only read, but lately seen, not among inveterate and mortal enemies, but among neighbors and fellow citizens, and, which is worse, under color of piety and religion); than there is barbarity in roasting and eating a person after he is dead….

We may then call these people barbarous, in respect to the rules of reason, but not in respect to ourselves, who in all sorts of barbarity exceed them. Their wars are throughout noble and generous, and are fought for reasons as good as that human malady is capable of; having with them no other foundation than the urge to valour. Their disputes are not for the conquest of new lands, for those they already possess are sufficiently fruitful by nature to supply their needs in such abundance that they have no need to enlarge their borders. And they are, moreover, happy in this, that they wish for only so much as their natural necessities require; all beyond that is superfluous to them; men of the same age call one another generally brothers, those who are younger, children; and the old men are fathers to all. These leave to their heirs in common the full possession of goods, without any manner of division, or other title than what nature bestows upon her creatures, in bringing them into the world. If their neighbors pass over the mountains to assault them, and obtain a victory, all the victors gain by it is glory, and the advantage of having proved themselves the better in valor and virtue, for they never meddle with the goods of the conquered, but presently return into their own country, where they have no want of anything necessary, nor of this greatest of all goods, to know happily how to enjoy their condition and to be content. …

Reading: From A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration by Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682)

Mary Rowlandson (c. 1637 – 1711), was a colonial American woman who was captured by Native Americans in 1676 during King Philip’s War and held for 11 weeks before being ransomed. After Puritan colonizers had established the Bay Colony in 1629, successive waves of English arrived and faced increasingly hostile native peoples who feared the encroachment onto their lands; by the 1670s, however, the English had violently subdued local opposition and this episode of native rebellion is one of the last of its kind in the area. In 1682, six years after her ordeal, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was published. This text is considered a formative American work in the literary genre of captivity narratives. It went through four printings in 1682 and garnered readership both in the New England colonies and in England, leading some to consider it the first American “bestseller”.

On the tenth of February, 1675, came the Indians with great number upon Lancaster. Their first coming was about sun-rising. Hearing the noise of some guns, we looked out; several houses were burning, and the smoke ascending to Heaven. There were five persons taken in one house, the father and the mother, and a sucking child, they knocked on the head; the other two they took, and carried away alive. There were two others, who, being out of their garrison upon some occasion, were set upon; one was knocked on the head, the other escaped. Another there was, who, running along, was shot and wounded, and fell down; he begged of them his life, promising them money (as they told me), but they would not hearken to him, but knocked him on the head, stripped him naked, and split open his bowels. Another, seeing many of the Indians about his barn, ventured and went out, but was quickly shot down. There were three others belonging to the same garrison who were killed. The Indians, getting up upon the roof of the barn, had advantage to shoot down upon them over their fortification. Thus these murderous wretches went on, burning and destroying before them.

At length they came and beset our own house, and quickly it was the dolefullest1 day that ever mine eyes saw. The house stood upon the edge of a hill; some of the Indians got behind the hill, others into the barn, and others behind any thing that would shelter them; from all which places they shot against the house, so that the bullets seemed to fly like hail; and quickly they wound- ed one man among us, then another, and then a third. About two hours (according to my observation in that amazing time) they had been about the house before they could prevail to fire it (which they did with flax and hemp, which they brought out of the barn, and there being no defense about the house, only two flankers, at two opposite corners, and one of them not finished). They fired it once, and one ventured out and quenched it; but they quickly fired it again, and that took. Now is that dreadful hour come that I have often heard of (in the time of the war, as it was the case of others) but now mine eyes see it. Some in our house were fighting for their lives, others wallowing in their blood; the house on fire over our heads, and the bloody heathen ready to knock us on the head if we stirred out. Now might we hear mothers and children crying out for themselves and one another, Lord, what shall we do? Then I took my children (and one of my sister’s, hers) to go forth and leave the house; but as soon as we came to the door and appeared, the Indians shot so thick that the bullets rattled against the house as if one had taken an handful of stones and threw them; so that we were fain to give back…. The bullets flying thick, one went through my side, and the same (as would seem) through the bowels and hand of my dear child in my arms. One of my eldest sister’s children (named William) had then his leg broken, which the Indians perceiving, they knocked him on the head. Thus were we butchered by those merciless heathen, standing amazed, with the blood running down to our heels.

My elder sister, being yet in the house, and seeing those woeful sights, the infidels hauling mothers one way and children another, and some wallowing in their blood, and her elder son telling her that (her son) William was dead, and myself was wounded; she said, Lord, let me die with them!, which was no sooner said but she was struck with a bullet, and fell down dead over the threshold. I hope she is reaping the fruit of her good labours, being faithful to the service of God in her place. In her younger years she lay under much trouble upon spiritual accounts, till it pleased God to make that precious Scripture take hold of her heart, 2 Cor. 12.9, And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee. More than twenty years after, I have heard her tell how sweet and comfortable that place was to her.

But to return: the Indians laid hold of us, pulling me one way and the children another, and said, Come, go along with us. I told them they would kill me. They answered, If I were willing to go along with them, they would not hurt me. I had often before this said, that if the Indians should come, I should choose rather to be killed by them than taken alive; but when it came to the trial my mind changed; their glittering weapons so daunted my spirit, that I chose rather to go along with those (as I may say) ravenous bears, than that moment to end my days. And that I may the better declare what happened to me during that grievous captivity, I shall particularly speak of the several removes we had up and down the wilderness.

The first remove : Now away we must go with those barbarous creatures, with our bodies wounded and bleeding, and our hearts no less than our bodies. About a mile we went that night; up upon a hill, within sight of the town, where they intended to lodge. There was hard by1 a vacant house (deserted by the English before, for fear of the Indians) I asked them whether I might not lodge in the house that night to which they answered, What, will you love English-men still? This was the dolefullest night that ever my eyes saw: oh the roaring, and singing, and dancing, and yelling of those black creatures in the night, which made the place a lively resemblance of hell! And as miserable was the waste that was there made of horses, cattle, sheep, swine, calves, lambs, roasting pigs, and fowls (which they had plundered in the town), some roasting, some lying and burning, and some boiling, to feed our merciless enemies; who were joyful enough, though we were disconsolate….

There remained nothing to me but one poor wounded babe, and it seemed at present worse than death that it was in such a pitiful condition, bespeaking compassion, and I had no refreshing for it, nor suitable things to revive it. Little do many think what is the savageness and brutishness of this barbarous enemy, even those that seem to profess more than others among them, when the English have fallen into their hands. …

The second remove: But now (the next morning) I must turn my back upon the town, and travel with them into the vast and desolate wilderness, I know not whither. It is not my tongue or pen can express the sorrows of my heart and bitterness of my spirit that I had at this departure. But God was with me in a wonderful manner, carrying me along, and bearing up my spirit, that it did not quite fail. One of the Indians carried my poor wounded babe upon a horse: it went moaning all along, I shall die, I shall die! I went on foot after it, with sorrow that cannot be expressed. At length I took it off the horse, and carried it in my arms, till my strength failed, and I fell down with it. Then they set me upon a horse, with my wounded child in my lap; and there being no furniture2 upon the horseback; as we were going down a steep hill, we both fell over the horse’s head, at which they, like inhuman creatures, laughed, and rejoiced to see it, though I thought we should there have ended our days, as overcome with so many difficulties. But the Lord renewed my strength still, and carried me along, that I might see more of his power, yea, so much that I could never have thought of, had I not experienced it.

After this it quickly began to snow; and when night came on they stopped; and now down I must sit in the snow (by a little fire and a few boughs behind me), with my sick child in my lap; and calling much for water, being now (through the wound) fallen into a violent fever (my own wound also growing so stiff that I could scarce sit down or rise up). Yet so it must be, that I must sit all this cold winter night upon the cold snowy ground, with my sick child in my arms, looking that every hour would be the last of its life; and having no Christian friend near me, either to comfort or help me. Oh, I may see the wonderful power of God, that my spirit did not utterly sink under my affliction! Still the Lord upheld me with his gracious and merciful Spirit, and we were both alive to see the light of the next morning. …

The fourth remove: And now must I part with that little company that I had. Here I parted from my daughter Mary (whom I never saw again till I saw her in Dorchester, returned from captivity), and from four little cousins and neighbours, some of which I never saw afterward; the Lord only knows the end of them. Amongst them also was that poor woman before mentioned, who came to a sad end, as some of the company told me in my travel: she having much grief upon her spirit about her miserable condition, being so near her time, she would be often asking the Indians to let her go home; they, not being willing to that, and yet vexed with her importunity, gathered a great company together about her, and stripped her naked, and set her in the midst of them; and when they had sung and danced about her (in their hellish manner) as long as they pleased; they knocked her on the head, and the child in her arms with her. When they had done that they made a fire, and put them both into it; and told the other children that were with them, that if they attempted to go home, they would serve them in like manner. The children said she did not shed one tear, but prayed all the while. But, to return to my own journey: we travelled about half a day, or a little more, and came to a desolate place in the wilderness, where there were no wigwams or inhabitants before. We came about the middle of the afternoon to this place; cold, and wet, and snowy, and hungry, and weary, and no refreshing (for man) but the cold ground to sit on, and our poor Indian cheer….

The fifth remove: The occasion (as I thought) of their moving at this time was the English army, its being near and following them; for they went as if they had gone for their lives for some considerable way; and then they made a stop, and chose out some of their stoutest men, and sent them back to hold the English army in play whilst the rest escaped; and then, like Jehu,1 they marched on furiously, with their old and with their young: some carried their old decrepit mothers, some carried one and some another. Four of them carried a great Indian upon a bier; but going through a thick wood with him they were hindered, and could make no haste; whereupon they took him upon their backs, and carried him, one at a time, till we came to Bacquaug River… .

The first week of my being among them I hardly ate anything; the second week I found my stomach grow very faint for want of something; and yet ’twas very hard to get down their filthy trash; but the third week (though I could think how formerly my stomach would turn against this or that, and I could starve and die before I could eat such things, yet) they were pleasant and savory to my taste. I was at this time knitting a pair of white cotton stockings for my mistress; and I had not yet wrought2 upon the Sabbath-day. When the Sabbath came, they bade me go to work; I told them it was Sabbath-day, and desired them to let me rest, and told them I would do as much more tomorrow; to which they answered me, they would break my face.

And here I cannot but take notice of the strange providence of God in preserving the heathen. They were many hundreds, old and young, some sick and some lame; many had papooses3 at their backs, the greatest number (at this time with us) were squaws;4 and they travelled with all they had, bag and baggage, and yet they got over this river aforesaid; and on Monday they set their wigwams on fire, and away they went: on that very day came the English army after them to this river, and saw the smoke of their wigwams; and yet this river put a stop to them. God did not give them courage or activity to go after us; we were not ready for so great a mercy as victory and deliverance; if we had been, God would have found out a way for the English to have passed this river, as well as for the Indians, with their squaws and children, and all their luggage. Oh that my people had harkened to me, and Israel had walked in my ways, I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries, Psalm 81 13, 14….

The sixth remove: On Monday (as I said) they set their wigwams on fire and went away. It was a cold morning, and before us there was a great brook with ice on it; some waded through it, up to the knees and higher, but others went till they came to a beaver dam, and I amongst them, where through the good providence of God, I did not wet my foot. I went along that day, mourning and lamenting, leaving farther my own country, and traveling into a vast and howling wilderness, and I understood something of Lot’s wife’s temptation, when she looked back.

We came that day to a great swamp, by the side of which we took up our lodging that night. When I came to the brow of the hill, that looked toward the swamp, I thought we had come to a great Indian town (though there were none but our own company). The Indians were as thick as the trees: it seemed as if there had been a thousand hatchets going at once. If one looked before one there was nothing but Indians, and behind one, nothing but Indians, and so on either hand, I myself in the midst, and no Christian soul near me, and yet how hath the Lord preserved me in safety? Oh the experience that I have had of the goodness of God, to me and mine!…

The nineteenth remove: My master had three squaws; living sometimes with one, and sometimes with another. One was this old squaw at whose wigwam I was, and with whom my master had been those three weeks. Another was Wettimore, with whom I had lived and served all this while. A severe and proud dame she was, bestowing every day in dressing herself near as much time as any of the gentry of the land; powdering her hair and painting her face, going with her necklaces, with jewels in her ears, and bracelets upon her hands. When she had dressed herself, her work was to make girdles of wampum and beads. The third squaw was a younger one, by whom he had two papooses. By that time I was refreshed by the old squaw, with whom my master was, Wettimore’s maid came to call me home, at which I fell a weeping; then the old squaw told me, to encourage me, that if I wanted victuals I should come to her, and that I should lie there in her wigwam. Then I went with the maid, and quickly came again and lodged there. The squaw laid a mat under me and a good rug over me; the first time I had any such kindness showed me. I understood that Wettimore thought that if she should let me go and serve with the old squaw she would be in danger to lose not only my service, but the redemption- pay also. And I was not a little glad to hear this; being by it raised in my hopes that in God’s due time there would be an end of this sorrowful hour. Then came an Indian, and asked me to knit him three pair of stockings, for which I had a hat and a silk handkerchief. Then another asked me to make her a shift, for which she gave me an apron.

Then came Tom and Peter, with the second letter from the council about the captives. Though they were Indians, I got them by the hand, and burst out into tears; my heart was so full that I could not speak to them. But recovering myself, I asked them how my husband did, and all my friends and acquaintance. They said, they were well, but very melancholy. They brought me two biscuits and a pound of tobacco. The tobacco I quickly gave away; when it was all gone, one asked me to give him a pipe of tobacco; I told him all was gone; then began he to rant and to threaten; I told him when my husband came I would give him some. “Hang him, rogue,” (says he), “I will knock out his brains if he comes here.” And then again, in the same breath, they would say, that if there should come an hundred without guns they would do them no hurt. So unstable and like madmen they were, so that, fearing the worst, I durst not send to my husband, though there were some thoughts of his coming to redeem and fetch me, not knowing what might follow; for there was little more to trust them than to the master they served. When the letter was come, the Saggamores met to consult about the captives, and called me to them to enquire how much my husband would give to redeem me. When I came, I sat down among them, as I was wont to do, as their manner is. Then they bade me stand up, and said, they were the general court. They bid me speak what I thought he would give. Now, knowing that all we had was destroyed by the Indians, I was in a great strait. I thought if I should speak of but little it would be slighted, and hinder the matter; if of a great sum, I knew not where it would be procured; yet at a venture, I said twenty pounds, yet desired them to take less. But they would not hear of that, but sent that message to Boston, that for twenty pounds I should be redeemed. …

But to return again to my going home, where we may see a remarkable change of Providence. At first they were all against it, except my husband would come for me; but afterwards they assented to it, and seemed much to rejoice in it; some asking me to send them some bread, others some tobacco, others shaking me by the hand, offering me a hood and scarf to ride in; not one moving hand or tongue against it. Thus hath the Lord answered my poor desires, and the many requests of others put up unto God for me. In my travels an Indian came to me, and told me, if I were willing, he and his squaw would run away, and go home along with me. I told him, no, I was not willing to run away, but desired to wait God’s time, that I might go home quietly, and without fear. And now God hath granted me my desire. Oh the wonderful power of God that I have seen, and the experiences that I have had! I have been in the midst of those roaring lions and savage bears, that feared neither God nor man, nor the Devil, by night and day, alone and in company, sleeping all sorts together; and yet not one of them ever offered the least abuse or unchastity to me in word or action….

The twenty pounds, the price of my redemption, was raised by some Boston gentlewomen, and M. Usher, whose bounty and religious charity I would not forget to make mention of. Then Mr. Thomas Shepherd of Charlestown received us into his house, where we continued eleven weeks; and a father and mother they were unto us. And many more tender-hearted friends we met with in that place. We were now in the midst of love, yet not without much and frequent heaviness of heart for our poor children and other relations who were still in affliction.

The week following, after my coming in, the governor and council sent forth to the Indians again, and that not without success; for they brought in my sister and Goodwife Kettle; their not knowing where our children were was a sore trial to us still, and yet we were not without secret hopes that we should see them again…. About this time the council had ordered a day of public thanksgiving; though I thought I had still cause of mourning; and being unsettled in our minds, we thought we would ride toward the eastward, to see if we could hear anything concerning our children. And as we were riding along (God is the wise disposer of all things) between Ipswich and Rowly we met with Mr. William Hubbard, who told us our son Joseph was come in to Major Waldrens, and another with him, which was my sister’s son…. Now we were between them, the one on the east, and the other on the west; our son being nearest we went to him first, to Portsmouth; where we met with him, and with the Major also, who told us he had done what he could, but could not redeem him under seven pounds, which the good people thereabouts were pleased to pay. The Lord reward the Major and all the rest, though unknown to me, for their labour of love. My sister’s son was redeemed for four pounds, which the Council gave order for the payment of. Having now received one of our children, we hastened towards the other; going back through Newbury, my husband preached there on the Sabbath-day, for which they rewarded him manifold….

Our family being now gathered together (those of us that were living), the South Church in Boston hired an house for us; then we removed from Mr. Shepherd’s (those cordial friends) and went to Boston, where we continued about three quarters of a year; still the Lord went along with us, and provided graciously for us. I thought it somewhat strange to set up housekeeping with bare walls; but, as Solomon says, Money answers all things, and that we had, through the benevolence of Christian friends, some in this town and some in that, and others, and some from England, that in a little time we might look and see the house furnished with love. …

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An Open Companion to Early British Literature Copyright © 2019 by Allegra Villarreal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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